Friday, March 07, 2014
Protesting against the cuts - then voting for them
Thursday last week saw Gateshead Council's annual budget meeting which set the budget and council tax for the year ahead. There was a very visible public protest against the cuts in front of one of the main doors into the Civic Centre. It was very difficult to avoid. After all, this was a public protest and people walking in and out of the building had to walk around the protest and the people snapping away with their cameras and phones. As I walked past, I spotted Labour councillors joining in the protest. You can see them in the photo above. They are the white haired lady towards the left of the picture, Helen Hughes in the red jacket, Lee Holmes (white shirt and Unison flag) and Malcolm Brain (standing by himself wearing a red tie). Having demonstrated their unity with the unions, publicly protested against the cuts and shown their ability to join in a photo op, the councillors headed back into the warmth of the Civic Centre for the big budget debate.
An interesting feature of this year's budget is that there is an underspend of £3.3 million. This is all the more surprising given that Labour last year protested that the cuts had gone too far. Yet here we have them cutting spending by a further £3.3 million on top of the cuts that were agreed last year. And their plan for the coming year's budget is to put all of that underspend into reserves rather than to spend any of it on the services they say they want to save from the axe.
Labour Councillors did have the opportunity on Thursday last week to put some of the underspend into services over the coming year which would otherwise be cut. Our budget amendment called for £1.5 million to scrap various cuts to children's services. Given the protest made by the likes of Cllr Brain just two hours before, it would be reasonable to assume Labour councillors would vote for our amendment. Don't assume anything of the sort! All Labour councillors present voted against our amendment.
During the debate, Cllr Brain called for the amendment to be defeated and claimed that we were only moving it to have the opportunity to write focus stories. This is somewhat rich given that it seems Cllr Brain's activities two hours earlier seemed to be more about having a photo taken (presumably for Labour election leaflets).
So, our amendment calling for some services to be saved went down to defeat at the hands of Labour councillors who just two hours earlier were calling for these services to be saved. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.
By the way Cllr Brain, it was interesting that it was you who raised the issue of our Focus leaflets in the budget debate. Has this anything to do with the appearance of Focus leaflets in your ward? Feeling the heat?